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The more it appears that a domestic or foreign plaintiff's choice of forum has been dictated by reasons that the law recognizes as valid, the greater the deference that will be given to the plaintiff's forum choice. Stated differently, the greater the plaintiff's or the lawsuit's bona fide connection to the United States and to the forum of choice and the more it appears that considerations of convenience favor the conduct of the lawsuit in the United States, the more difficult it will be for the defendant to gain dismissal for forum non conveniens. Thus, factors that argue against forum non conveniens dismissal include the convenience of the plaintiff's residence in relation to the chosen forum, the availability of witnesses or evidence to the forum district, the defendant's amenability to suit in the forum district, the availability of appropriate legal assistance, and other reasons relating to convenience or expense.
On October 3, 1992, Mauricio Iragorri -- a domiciliary of Florida since 1981 and a naturalized United States citizen since 1989 -- fell five floors to his death down an open elevator shaft in the apartment building where his mother resided in Cali, Colombia. Mauricio left behind his widow, Haidee, and their two teenaged children, Patricia and Maurice, all of whom are the plaintiffs in this action. The plaintiffs have been domiciliaries of Florida since 1981. At the time of the accident, however, Haidee and the two children were living temporarily in Bogota, Colombia, because the children were attending a Bogota school as part of an educational exchange program sponsored by their Florida high school. The Iragorris brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut on September 30, 1994. The named defendants were Otis Elevator Company ("Otis"), a New Jersey corporation with its principal place of business in Connecticut; United Technologies Corporation ("United") -- the parent of Otis -- a Delaware corporation whose principal place of business is also in Connecticut; and International Elevator, Inc. ("International"), a Maine corporation, which since 1988 had done business solely in South America. It is alleged that prior to the accident, an employee of International had negligently wedged open the elevator door with a screwdriver to perform service on the elevator, thereby leaving the shaft exposed and unprotected. The complaint alleged two theories of liability against defendants Otis and United: that (a) International acted as an agent for Otis and United so that the negligent acts of its employee should be imputed to them, and (b) Otis and United were liable under Connecticut's products liability statute for the defective design and manufacture of the elevator which was sold and installed by their affiliate, Otis of Brazil. On February 12, 1998, the claims against International Elevator were transferred to the United States District Court for the District of Maine. That district court then dismissed the case against International Elevator on forum non conveniens grounds, and the First Circuit affirmed. Defendants Otis and United meanwhile moved to dismiss under forum non conveniens, arguing that plaintiffs' suit should be brought in Cali, Colombia, where the accident occurred. The district court granted the motion and dismissed the claims against Otis and United on the condition that they agree to appear in the courts of Cali. A panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated and remanded to the District Court for reconsideration in light of our recent decisions on forum non conveniens. Thereafter, the court issued an order to hear the case en banc.
Did the district court accord appropriate deference to the Iragorris’ chosen forum?
The court found that the district court did not accord appropriate deference to the Iragorris’ chosen forum. Although the Iragorris had resided temporarily in another country at the time of the accident giving rise to the suit it appeared that they had returned to their permanent, long-time domicile in Florida by the time the suit was filed. So far as the record revealed, there was little indication that the Iragorris chose Otis and United’s principal place of business for forum-shopping reasons. The Iragorris were apparently unable to obtain jurisdiction in Florida over an original third defendant, but could obtain jurisdiction over all three in Connecticut. It appeared furthermore that witnesses and documentary evidence relevant to the Iragorris’ theory were to be found at Otis and United’s installations in Connecticut. Accordingly, the court remanded for reconsideration and instructed the district court to determine the degree of deference to which the Iragorris’ choice was entitled, the balance of hardships to the respective parties as between the competing fora, and the public interest factors involved.